10: Blind Sight
A gossamer airship was moored over the Faire Ground's now-empty meadow. Tinker had seen many gossamers at a distance, but never one close enough to appreciate their true size. Something so huge, living, floating in mid-air challenged the mind to accept it as truth. The gondola alone was a hundred feet long and sixty feet wide; the gossamer rippled in the wind above it, dwarfing the teak structure. And that was the portion of the animal easily seen—the cell structure of the creature fractured the sunlight into a million prisms, giving substance to the nearly transparent form. The creature's countless frilled fins, extending far beyond the glittering mass, showed only as a distortion high overhead, like water running over a glass roof.
"How much tinkering did you have to do to get the gossamers that big?"
"I believe getting them large was not the problem," Pony said. "They occur in nature nearly that size. Probably making them float in air was the difficult part. Originally they were sea creatures."
"Why wouldn't they start with something that already floated in air?"
"You can grow wings on turtles, but they still crawl on the ground."
"What the hell does that mean?"
Pony struggled a moment to put it into words. "Those that float in air naturally go where the air takes them. They needed something that could choose its own course—a swimmer."
It took her a moment to realize he was talking of instinct. "You can give turtles wings—somehow—but not the understanding of flight."
"Yes!" Pony beamed a smile. "There are some side considerations. Redesigning a body structure to take the stresses of such a massive size in strong currents would have been difficult, so they selected an animal already quite large."
"Who are 'they'?"
On a signal from the Wyverns, there was a loud clank above their heads as safety locks disengaged. An ornately carved, wooden elevatorlike cage smoothly lowered from the gondola. The doors were handmade works of art, and they folded aside to reveal the stunningly beautiful Sparrow Lifted By Wind. Her shimmering white gown of Faire silk was cut so far off her shoulders—displaying her pearly skin, delicate bone structure, and full breasts to perfection—that Tinker wasn't sure what was keeping the dress on, except for the fact that it was too tight to otherwise slip down. What kept her from being the antithesis of Hannah Briggs' tight black was an overdress of cerulean that drifted around her like smoke and matched the blue of Sparrow's dau mark. Sapphires, cerulean ribbons, and pale blue forget-me-not flowers weaved through her intricate pale blond braids, not a hair out of place.
Instantly Tinker realized that she was covered with motor grease, engine oil, dirt, and chicken shit. That she wore Oilcan's hand-me-down T-shirt, her worn carpenter pants, and boots large enough for Minnie Mouse didn't help either. "Oh, hell," she breathed.
"Husepavua." Pony bowed in greeting.
Tinker started to bow too, but Pony checked her with a hand to her shoulder and a slight shake of his head.
Sparrow's eyes narrowed slightly at the gesture, and she flicked her hand dismissively at Pony. "You are released from this duty. Take the car and return to the enclave."
"I am ze domi ani's" — Pony stressed the plural—"guard. I will be going with her."
Pony startled Sparrow into showing cold deep anger that smoothed away a moment later.
"Come, then." Sparrow motioned toward the elevator cage. "I am needed at Aum Renau and can ill spare my attention for this baby-sitting run."
More than three would have crowded the elevator, so the Wyverns waited on the ground while Sparrow, Pony, and Tinker boarded. The doors had to be closed manually, and a bell rung to signal that all was ready for the cage to be raised. Still, the elevator rose as smoothly as it had descended.
Sparrow studied Tinker as they rode upward, and gave a slight sniff. "She smells so much of mud, one would think Wolf Who Rules fashioned her out of dirt."
Pony did not bother to hide his anger. "You fumbled badly, Sparrow. The Wyverns dealt with her in their normal heavy-handed manner and nearly hurt ze domi ani. You should have accompanied them."
"And you should remember I'm domana now, not kuetaun," Sparrow chided him. "As for the Wyverns…" She clicked her tongue in an elfin shrug. "The fault does not lie with me. No one would expect the Wyverns to be stupid enough to attack the viceroy's wife."
The cage slid up into the gondola and the safety locks reengaged with a thud under their feet, muffled now by wood and carpet.
Sparrow folded back the door to reveal that the cage was tucked into an alcove of a richly paneled hallway. "I have clothes for her; they'll need fitting. First, though, she'll have to have the barnyard washed off her. Go, clean her."
Tinker bristled. "I can speak low tongue quite well. And I'm fully capable of washing myself."
"Then do so. We have much to do before we arrive at Aum Renau. You must be fit to be brought before the queen." Sparrow bowed curtly and shot a hard look at Pony to collect a bow from him. Once Pony had paid his due to her, she flowed away, a shimmer of white and cerulean.
"This way, domi," Pony murmured to Tinker, indicating that they were to get out of the way of the arriving Wyverns. He led her down the hallway that cut through the center of the gondola. Behind them, the gossamer's crew prepared to cast off the moorings. There was an odd unpredictability to the floor that hadn't been that noticeable standing still; it shifted right and left, up and down minutely, so that each stride felt like a misstep.
Rooms were carefully balanced off either side of the hallway. The first door stood open, revealing an observation room, all done in creamy white and accents of red, with a bank of windows open to sky. Three elf females sat surrounded with bolts of Faire silk, laughing as they worked with the material. They looked up as Tinker paused to glance in at the view, and they went into stunned silence at her appearance.
"Pardon," Tinker stammered, and started to bow out of reflex. Again Pony caught her shoulder and shook his head. "Why do you keep doing that?" she whispered as she fled the doorway.
"You are higher caste than Sparrow and those females," Pony said. "There is no one on board that you should bow to."
"Oh." Tinker pointed to her forehead. "The dau?"
"Yes, the dau, and that you are now Windwolf's domi." Pony opened a door and stepped into a small room of hand-painted ceramic tiles. The motif was phoenix and flame flowers—a riot of reds and oranges on pristine white. "This is the bath. Do you wish to be attended?"
"No!" she cried, then eyed the room. Having been practically raised by Tooloo, she thought she knew how elves bathed—just like humans. The room certainly challenged her notion of this. She recognized the bathrobe hanging on a hook, but there were no faucets. There was what looked like a pull chain dangling next to a spout, but it was at knee level. "This is a bathroom?"
Pony considered the question carefully and then nodded. "Yes." He leaned into the room—he seemed loath to actually enter it—and lifted up a wooden disc sitting on a wide waist-high shelf. Beneath it was a large circular tank of steaming water. "This is the pesh." He replaced the lid. "Bae." This was a wide shallow bowl. "Giree." A dried hollow gourd. "Safat." A sponge-looking… thing.
"Soap?" she said hopefully.
Thankfully there was soap, heavenly scented, in a paste form close enough to bar soap that she could wing it. Pony handed the soap crock down off its shelf, then stood there, distressed. "I can get an attendant to help you."
"I can wash myself." Yeah. Sure. "Just—what's the pull chain for?"
Pony winced. "The wash water." He pointed to the low spout. "You fill the basin and pour it over you, then use the soap and the safat, and rinse again, then into the pesh to soak."
"Ah, I see." Seemed a damn uncomfortable way to wash, but she supposed it saved water. No wonder Tooloo stuck to human showers. "I can handle it from here."